Jack Wilshere had waited a long time for this. In his first FA Cup appearance since winning the 2015 final with Arsenal, Bournemouth edgd past the League Two side Crawley thanks to a first goal in 518 days from the former England midfielder.
It capped an impressive comeback performance from Wilshere, who joined Bournemouth on a short-term deal until the end of the season last week having been released by West Ham in October. Tom Nichols briefly ignited Covid-hit Crawley’s hopes of inflicting a second upset after embarrassing Leeds in the third round but Josh King’s goal was enough to take Jason Tindall’s side through to a fifth-round meeting with Burnley.
“Jack took his goal extremely well. It was a really good performance,” said Tindall, the Bournemouth manager. “As we know with Jack he is a quality player, he always wants the ball and I was very pleased with his performance. The minutes will do him good and it was a step forward for him.”
Despite also being part of the Arsenal side that won the FA Cup in 2014 under Arsène Wenger, Wilshere’s only other goal in this competition came in a replay the previous year against Swansea. The 29-year-old made his second Bournemouth debut as a substitute in the defeat by Derby at the weekend and was one of six changes for the hosts against Crawley.
“From a personal point of view it was just a pleasure to be back starting a game,” said Wilshere, who spent the 2016-17 season on the south coast on loan from Arsenal. “Last time I was here I didn’t score and it didn’t sit well with me. I forgot how to celebrate. I was a bit shocked. I probably should have had a couple more – I got into some good positions.”
Crawley’s preparations had been severely hampered by a coronavirus outbreak at the League Two club last week that forced their training ground to be shut until Monday. This fixture had been due to take place on Saturday but was swiftly rearranged, while it also meant John Yems was without five senior players.
The tone was set here in the opening 10 minutes as Bournemouth enjoyed 84% of possession and created several chances, including Philip Billing’s header from a corner that came back off the post. Defending remains an obvious weakness of the side that Tindall has inherited from Eddie Howe, however, and Crawley’s strike pairing of Nichols and Ashley Nadesan combined well to create a first opportunity for the underdogs that was palmed away by Asmir Begovic.
Yet after Bournemouth had passed up more chances to take the lead, Wilshere’s goal in the 24th minute was a work of art. The lively Arnaut Danjuma received the ball from Billing’s pass and on the edge of the area found King, whose flick into Wilshere’s path allowed him to curl the ball into the net with his left foot without breaking stride.
Much to his disappointment after scoring against Leeds, the former Tottenham youth-team player Nick Tsaroulla was forced off with an apparent injury soon after Crawley fell behind. It would have been even more of an uphill struggle for them at half-time had David Brooks made more of two chances, while King was also close to extending Bournemouth’s lead from a tight angle but was denied by the goalkeeper Glenn Morris.
Yems had been forced to stay in contact with his players remotely given the strict coronavirus restrictions and had conducted some training sessions via Zoom in an attempt to keep up their fitness having not played since beating Leeds on 10 January. So it was no surprise to see them struggling to keep a rampant Bournemouth side at bay, with a point-blank save from Morris denying Wilshere his second goal early in the second half.
A momentary lapse of concentration from Begovic almost gifted Crawley an equaliser after a back pass was charged down by Nichols, with the goalkeeper making amends by saving the follow-up from Nadesan. Nichols then felt aggrieved after he was shown a yellow card following a challenge from Lloyd Kelly inside the area that was deemed to have been a dive by the referee Andre Marriner, although within a minute he had his revenge.
Replays showed the 27-year-old was offside in the buildup and he made no mistake from close range after Josh Wright’s flick-on. Crawley’s joy was short-lived, though, with King finishing off Danjuma’s brilliant run after Wilshere had scuffed the opportunity to score a carbon copy of his goal. Bournemouth’s second prompted his withdrawal as Tindall threw on Dominic Solanke in an attempt to finish off Crawley. That failed to materialise despite several good chances, although it was always destined to be Wilshere’s night.